Global Okanagan broadcast journalist Neetu Garcha has always had a keen interest in current events, but she first caught the broadcast journalism bug in Grade 12 when a bold character-building exercise showed her how to turn her passion into a career.
“At my high school career day, I went through everything from elementary school teacher to nurse to pilot—I even did some career shadowing and co-piloted a plane, but none of it stuck with me,” said Garcha.
“Then in Grade 12 I joined the Miss Penticton program as a way of honing my public speaking skills, and I ended up winning the pageant. I’ve always been a current events nerd, so it made sense that broadcast journalism would be a good fit.”
After a series of volunteer gigs with local radio stations, Giant FM in Penticton hired Garcha to host a weekend radio show. For a full year, Garcha interviewed subjects, attended youth conferences, and reported stories before pursuing a marketing degree at UBC Okanagan.
“I’m very passionate about volunteer work, and I thought it would be good to have a bachelor of management in case I ever started a non-profit. At that same time, I was hired as a student producer and reporter for UBCO TV. After I graduated, I attended BCIT for broadcast journalism and started my career.”
Garcha was immediately hired out of journalism school to work as a radio anchor at CKNW Newstalk 980 in Vancouver, but her love of the Okanagan pulled her back home to take on a broadcast position with Global TV in 2014.
While Garcha’s career has spanned multiple cities and journalistic formats, she says that broadcast journalism of all stripes is moving in one singular direction.
“Journalism is very much shifting to the online world,” she said. “Fewer people are turning on their televisions waiting for the evening newscast. People are getting their news from Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. There’s a big push all across the industry to get our materials online.”
The Internet’s new place as the predominant news medium means that broadcast journalists like Garcha are being forced to adapt, to learn new skills that present credible stories quickly. Broadcast journalists must now become expert videographers, she says, while also knowing how to use software like WordPress and HootSuite.
But for Garcha, it’s all about presenting powerful stories in the most compelling possible manner—and using stories, in any format, to do good.
“In the industry, we’re often told to find what’s going to bring us more ratings and more social media share. It’s easy to get lost in that and forget that we’re supposed to make a difference in the community.
“I believe in the power of storytelling to do good—that’s why I got into this industry. I don’t want to fall into the cycle of the daily news grind. Storytelling can shed light on a lot of issues in the world. People might read something and be moved to donate to a local wildlife shelter or volunteer overseas. I believe in the power of storytelling to shape our society for the better.”
Some of Garcha’s more memorable stories that support this mission include her four-part report on the Greek refugee crisis, her three-part series on a Penticton school’s charity efforts for Haiti, and her monthly Local Hero series in which she profiles some of the Okanagan’s most remarkable citizens.
For Garcha, journalism offers a variety of great opportunities that give her opportunities to exercise her creativity while also having fun.
“I love having an occupational excuse to call important people and start asking them questions,” she said. “But also, I love that I’m able to shed light on the truth, hold powerful people accountable, and encourage viewers to think twice about things.”
But Garcha’s mission to better society also extends beyond her career in journalism and into her personal life.
With her colleagues at Global Okanagan, Garcha participates in the annual Pihl Law Paddle for Prevention, a SUP boarding race that raises funds for BrainTrust Canada.
“Last year we had a team of four people, including my news director and two other reporters. We fundraise through bake sales and through an online link. This year we were the Global Paddle Pirates—we dressed in pirate garb. It was lots of fun.”
When she’s not volunteering in the community, Garcha enjoys delivering talks in local elementary schools on topics like the importance of fact-checking and other journalistic concepts.
Garcha says that her journalism work and background in humanitarian aid have taught her a variety of lessons. The news media is one of the most influential forces in our society, she says, and knowing that her role as a reporter can influence the way people think has prompted her to consider how she can make a daily difference.
“I find that if you work hard and remember what your goal is, opportunities find you. But at the same time, it’s important to take on opportunities when you don’t feel ready. And, of course, it’s essential to be kind to people along the way.”
Crowe MacKay’s Women to Watch program is a weekly feature that profiles remarkable women in our community, concluding Oct. 16. After terrific response, the nomination period for 2015 is now closed. Watch this space each week to see our remaining Women to Watch.